Review: blueLounge Refresh The Place to Recharge
Though we criticized blueLounge's $130 charging station The Sanctuary last year for being overpriced given what it did -- charge several devices at the same time -- we always enjoy the company's designs, and inherently appreciate the idea behind its products: declutter and simplify your living and working spaces. The exact same product at a much lower price would have made sense to us, but instead, blueLounge has come up with Refresh ($90), a smaller and less expensive version with very similar functionality but also a less impressive feeling of stability. As much as we'd love to be able to recommend Refresh without caveats, its design raises certain new issues that its predecessor wisely avoided.
Available in white, black, or pink, Refresh preserves Sanctuary’s key concept, giving users access to multiple types of power plugs so that they can set their devices down in one clean-looking tray and simultaneously charge them at once. Whereas Sanctuary included a total of 12 power plugs that spanned the gamut from twin Nokia, twin Samsung, and individual Palm, LG, Sony Ericsson and iPod/iPhone connectors, plus male mini- and micro-USB, and female standard USB connectors, Refresh wisely prunes the collection down to just six cables: two iPod/iPhone Dock Connectors, one micro-USB, one mini-USB, and two female USB ports. Devices can be plugged into all six of these cables simultaneously, each drawing 500mA of power; the two female ports let you connect whatever proprietary cables your non-Apple and non-micro/mini-USB devices may include. We applaud the practical pruning here: it makes the interior of Refresh far cleaner than Sanctuary, gives greater weight to iPod and iPhone charging, and doubles the number of USB ports for other devices.
blueLounge has also changed the shape pretty considerably. Sanctuary was a 9.125” rounded square, and Refresh is now a rounded trapezoid that’s 9” to 9.5” on its longest sides, 5.675” on its shortest, and tapered in height from roughly 1” to 2”. A separate rubberized plastic tray is placed on top of the base, hiding the cables inside and serving as a non-glossy surface for your devices to rest while they charge. The consequence of the unusual measurements is that the plastic base of Refresh elevates the tops of devices above their bottoms, using a plastic lip at the bottom to hold them on the tray, and widing a bit near the top edges to give you a little extra space to grab the devices relative to their more cramped bottoms. Cables are designed to peek through a slot at the bottom of the tray as needed.
To be clear, if Refresh had used the same thick plastic and the same foam padding as Sanctuary, we wouldn’t have had any complaints. The prior plastic design may have been expensive, but it felt solid, and the foam padding helped to keep the velvet-covered top layer from rattling around inside. Here, the plastic is roughly half the thickness and the tray has no padding. The parts don’t nest together quite as stably as their predecessors, so the tray rattles a bit once it’s inside, leaving you to wonder if it’s really in the right place. It’s not that the build quality is poor—to the contrary, the parts look and feel like they’re good enough to withstand a bit of abuse—but rather that they’re on the insubstantial and jiggly side for something that costs $90.
Not surprisingly, Refresh works just as expected. Plug in a pair of Bluetooth headphones and a couple of iPhones and they’ll all charge at once; alternately, if you’re willing to supply your own Dock Connector-to-USB cables, you can use the female USB ports to have up to four Apple devices charging at once, limited more by surface area than by electrical current. A little light on the inside of the tray lets you know the power’s on once you’ve connected the unit to its included black wall adapter, which ships with four different international wall blades; there are no buttons or switches to worry about.
Whether Refresh appeals to your personal needs will depend as much upon your collection of accessories as your budget. Over the past year, we’ve reviewed $45 Dexim dual-dock chargers and $50/$70 Griffin dual- and quad-dock chargers, all less expensive than Refresh, but blueLounge’s designs are amongst rare models with simultaneous support for iPods, iPhones, and other non-Apple devices. To the extent that competing products have used nice materials and made efficient use of space by standing iPods and iPhones up in docking wells, we tend to prefer them; however, if you have a number of non-Apple accessories to charge at the same time and are willing to accept Refresh’s less than ideal combination of fit and weight, you’ll find that it will do exactly what it’s supposed to do, and look nice doing it. It’s a better value for the dollar than Sanctuary, with its own unique compromises.